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The Rockets Daily – April 7, 2014

Behind the Scenes – Last week, ESPN ranked all 30 NBA front offices as a whole, and then broke them down into owners, GM/Presidents and coaches.  We already discussed owners, so now, the decision makers.  Daryl Morey ranked about as high as you would expect, coming in fifth.

There’s not a whole lot of argument to be made about Morey’s placement.  No one has taken the route that Morey did to get this high on this list, and I doubt anyone else could have accomplished what he did, the way he did it.  But the four decision-makers ahead of him are all very good at their jobs and have had more success than the Rockets head-honcho.  As for the head coach rankings, some holes could be punched in the list in defense of Kevin McHale’s mediocre rank of 13th.

As I said when discussing the overall rankings last week, Brad Stevens was a smart hire for the Celtics and may very well end up a great coach, but to already be calling him the 11th best coach in the league is an insult to the rest of the Association.  The man is (understandably) 23-54 for his career thus far, so you can’t call his ranking anything more than a guess.

And as for Terry Stotts of the Portland Trail Blazers, his guys started off as the hottest team in the league for two months before a second-half swoon has left them fighting to hold onto the 5-seed.  A second-half collapse for the Blazers might sound familiar because it’s exactly what they did last season under Stotts.  The Blazers were fighting for a playoff spot at 25-23 last spring before floundering to an 8-26 record the rest of the way.  But sure, I guess there could be a case to be made that he’s the 8th best coach in the league in there somewhere.

All Kevin McHale has done is take over a team that has had roughly 95% roster turnover in his almost-three years at the helm, and coached them to a record of 130-94 (.580 win%).  And after struggling to integrate the newest characters into the mix this season, not to mention having to navigate a slew of nagging injuries, McHale had the hottest team in the league for three solid months before Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley went down.  I’m not saying McHale is Jack Ramsay or anything, but he deserves a little more notice for the job he’s done leading the Rockets.

On a side note, that Rick Carlisle is ranked sixth is a personal outrage.  I don’t care about Doc River’s name, Eric Spoelstra’s LeBron or Frank Vogel’s out-of-nowhere-ness; all things being equal, Carlisle would (and in Spoelstra’s case, did) coach circles around them.  And Tom Thibodeau is at best the defensive-Rick Carlisle, so at worst Carlisle should be 2-b to Thib’s 2-a.  Greg Poppovich remains unimpeachable, Hack-A-Shaq be damned.

Short Corner – Rob Mahoney of the Point Forward had a few thoughts on the NBA in his Short Corner piece, with two notes on the Houston Rockets featuring James Harden and Terrence Jones.

Friday’s game between the Rockets and Thunder was fun on the whole, though the fourth quarter was essentially a competition to see which team could draw more fouls by way of pump fakes and rip moves. I won’t say that I didn’t enjoy James Harden trying so desperately to get Derek Fisher off his feet, though I’ve certainly seen better — and more viewer-friendly — late-game execution.

This has been a prevailing theme of Harden’s game overall this season, not just in the fourth quarter.  But we’ll come back to that shortly.  As for Jones:

Second-year forward Terrence Jones has given Houston production and minutes from a position of previous need, though he also seems to be at particular risk of on-court absence. At his best, Jones is a force; he can be effective enough offensively that opponents can’t afford to leave him and active enough defensively as to help protect the basket when Dwight Howard is pulled away. It’s also not terribly uncommon for him to fade into the background entirely, as was the case in his two-point, four-foul performance in 19 minutes against the Clippers last weekend.

Sir Charles is fond of saying that the difference between a good player and a great player is consistency.  Jones’ flashes have been great this season, mainly due to the fact that no one was sure what he was capable of coming into his sophomore campaign, and because the Rockets so desperately needed someone to step into the 4-spot after the Howard-Asik experiment failed.  But going into the playoffs and especially year three of his career, more will be expected of the 22 year-old.

Every year a young player will flash some promise and excite his fan base for the future, only to have his career-arc flatten out and fall somewhere in the middle.  JJ Hickson and DeJuan Blair come to mind when considering Jones’ prospects from that perspective.  Neither of them were ever able to find the consistency that would allow them to be anything more than middling role players.  T.J. has more talent than either Hickson or Blair, but whatever it is that allows players to move from promising prospect to a David West-esque difference maker has alluded Jones thus far into his career.  And that is expected from a kid who is only 89 games into his career, but finding it could go a long ways towards Houston finding that allusive third star.

Back to that free throw thing – In Hickory-High’s weekly stat pack, they had an interesting note on James Harden that really highlights the efficiency he plays with.

For the third time this season, James Harden averaged at least six points per made field goal.

I say efficiency because a good free throw shooter at the line is considered one of the best plays in the NBA according to advanced metrics.  And it’s free throws that allow for such an absurd stat like the one above.  Harden doesn’t take as many shots in the box score as most of the league’s top scorers, but it’s because he is so adept at getting to the line and earning free points.

So when an unbiased outsider complains that Harden’s style bogs down games and turns them into a free throw contest, it elicits two emotions: on one hand, they’re kind of right.  Games get boring when the referee’s whistle is as prevalent as the squeak of shoes on the floor.  And things can get frustrating when Harden gets into the lane seeking a call rather than looking to make the right play.  But secondly, and I can’t emphasize “most importantly” enough, screw the unbiased outsiders.  The Rockets have wins to collect and playoff games to prepare for.  James Harden at the free throw line is easy points for the Houston Rockets.  And in memory of John Madden, you can’t win games if you don’t score points.

Keep doing your thing, James.

One other note from the Stat Pack:

Omer Asik has 38 rebounds in April, nine short of his February total.

That 38 boards was accomplished in only two games.  Two more games into the April schedule and that number has nearly doubled and now sits at 73.  The big tree is back.

Threes and Frees – Tom Haberstroh made a video breaking down the unique method James Harden uses to get his 25.4 points per game.  Most of it is stuff you’ve heard before, but there were some interesting notes.


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